#Lockdown2020 has caused a lot of cultural shifts. The way we communicate with friends, family, and the outside world has changed dramatically. Being told to stay at home has meant that we aren’t able to go round to our friends’ homes for a catch-up, and we’re not allowed to pop to the shops for a bit of retail therapy. We’ve had to take our socialising online. Brands have followed us in this transition, by putting a great spotlight on their social media strategies, and how they communicate with their audience online.
Brands have taken to social media like never before. In fact, many brands have chosen to channel their marketing budgets into social media since the effects of lockdown have limited their usual marketing capabilities. Typically, social media may account for around 10% of marketing budgets, but in 2020 this increased to 25% of many brands’ total marketing budgets (Hootsuite).
The way brands interact with their audiences, and vice versa, has changed drastically over the last decade as the internet and social media have become increasingly more integral to people’s lives.According to (Hootsuite), we spend 2 hours 29 minutes a day on average on social media, and that number is only set to rise. As such, brands have had to think about how they talk to and connect with their audiences on social media platforms.
It used to be that brands would broadcast their message in a one-to-many communication structure, where the identity they wanted to portray was centralised and owned completely by the brand. However, since social media came along, this one-to-many method has been replaced by a network, many-to-many structure. Now, the audience can communicate back to the brand much more easily, disrupting the traditional brand broadcasting communication style and opening up a two-way conversation. Brands have had to be open to this back and forth in order to remain relevant to their audience, and in order to connect with them on a more personal level.This connection and acceptance that brand building is a two-way street on social media is one of the keys to success for brands in this new arena.
In order to build a brand successfully on social media, there are two kinds of content your brand should be focussing on producing – storytelling, brand-building pieces, sales activation and performance marketing pieces.
Storytelling and brand-building pieces are story-led, big-idea campaign pieces that are less about a sales push and more about brand awareness. The aim of these pieces is to connect emotionally and personally with your audience so that they can get to know your brand personality, and decide if they like your brand and what it stands for. This is long-form content and works best when applied to multiple touchpoints over a longer period of time.
Sales activation and performance marketing pieces tend to be much shorter-lived content pieces than storytelling pieces. These are the conversion-focused assets that have a sales focus, rather than a brand awareness focus.
Graph from BornSocial
Social media’s value as an advertising channel goes beyond simply driving direct conversions and sales. Studies into decision making from Google have proven thatbrand strength is a key tool in helping users to navigate the ‘messy middle’ of the decision making process when deliberating whether or not to convert. Now more than ever, exploration and evaluation of a brand is a key part of the user journey, and social media is a great tool for users to do that. Brands with a strong brand presence are more likely to be picked at the end of the messy middle process, and therefore there is a lot to be gained from running brand-led content on social media. Unlike many channels,social media is able to offer a full-funnel experience, taking users from the discovery phase to purchase with ease.
Emotional advertising outperforms bottom-of-the-funnel advertising every time – it is more memorable and has a longer shelf life in the consumer’s mind.
In order to successfully build your brand on social media, you should consider running both kinds of social content. This will help your brand to strike the right balance of connecting with the audience without them feeling that you’re constantly invading their feeds with sales messages, which is likely to cause frustration and friction.You need to think about what your audience will get out of interacting with your brand on social – remember, it’s a two-way street.
Brand marketing needs performance marketing in order to drive results, and performance marketing needs brand marketing in order to find new customers.
eCommerce features have been on the horizon for our social media feeds for years, but in the last year or two have really started to pick up some momentum. Since commerce functionality has been introduced to many social media platforms, the way that brands approach brand building on these platforms has started to shift.
Now, the line may be more blurred between brand campaigns and performance marketing pieces. You may be able to produce a brand piece that does not have overpowering sales messaging, but include a shoppable tag on a product featured in the ad, which will serve as a more natural call to action for the user to find out more about your product offering. This approach helps to reduce the friction between social media and eCommerce, resulting in a more seamless and more natural buying experience for the user.
User-generated content (UGC) in marketing is nothing new, but with the pandemic restricting many brands’ ability to create new content for their campaigns, we have seen a rise in the use of UGC throughout 2020. The pandemic has also seen a shift in the way brands perceive their customers and how they interact with them – just remember all the “we’re here with you” campaigns we saw flood our feeds back in the spring of 2020.The “unprecedented circumstance” of a global pandemic has caused brands to understand the importance of connecting with their audiences on a deeper level.
For many brands, the idea of showing slick, aspirational advertising content in a time of global crisis is just not an appropriate option. Then of course there’s the more practical question of how new content is actually going to be created when most of us are confined to our own homes. The days of exotic location shoots and ensemble casts for TV ads are, at least temporarily, gone. In its place we are seeing a significant rise in the use of user-generated content (UGC) in marketing, featuring raw, hand shot footage from staff or customers which are designed to reflect our collective new reality and create an emotional connection with audiences.
– The Drum
In this time of lockdown, UGC is a practical way for brands to continue to provide content for their audiences, but it also serves other purposes. Trust and reviews are a huge part of the decision-making process for many consumers, and seeing content from real people using the products being advertised is a great way to entice them towards conversion. Using UGC helps brands to engage by showing the reality of their brand and products, rather than a constructed idealised version.
Before the internet, it was much easier for brands to control their narrative and the public’s perceptions of them. The brand existed in society’s collective consciousness, and advertising worked through a method of cultural imprinting.
Cultural imprinting is the mechanism whereby an ad, rather than trying to change our minds individually, instead changes the landscape of cultural meanings — which in turn changes how we are perceived by others when we use a product.
– Kevin Simler, “Ads don’t work that way”.
However, now, due to the rise of the internet and social media,the way we are presented with content is much more personalised. Just because you have seen an ad doesn’t mean that your family, friends, or peers will have seen that ad, and therefore the cultural imprinting method that would have swayed the decision-making process in the past is not as effective. Our digestion of content is siloed and so the way brands advertise and communicate has had to adapt.
The whole concept of culture has splintered and changed as the internet experience has become increasingly personalised.To successfully form meaningful relationships with their audiences, brands should lean into this, by sourcing and embracing the subcultures that fit with their brand aims and ethos.
Be careful with what subcultures you choose to identify with, as audiences can sniff out disingenuousness in their midst and that could leave a mark on your brand reputation.Make sure you connect on issues that are important to both your brand and your audience and find people who are a natural, authentic fit for your brand. Once you find your people, think about how you can bring value to their online subculture – like so much else on social media, it’s about give and take.
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